TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: The Covert Interview From:Ellen Adams <ellena -at- TOLSTOY -dot- SC -dot- TI -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 5 Jan 1995 15:25:20 CST
Regarding your query on the covert interview,
I was once in a position where I was asked
to "ghostwrite" a technical manual.
I worked at a very small software company
with folks who had been friends for years.
In this particular case, the head engineer
thought he was going to write the documentation,
but in reality, my text was to be used. (I
was hired as marketing coordinator, but soon
the job of creating the Quick Start guide
for the company software product became my
responsibility.) The head engineer, bless him, only spoke
machine language, and the CEO deemed the
manual that he created "unreadable." However,
to avoid hurting the guy's feelings, the boss
said *my* work on the manual should be "hush-hush."
I had the advantage of being able to conduct
my first covert interview very simply. I could honestly say:
"I am new to the company, and I'm just getting
acquainted with the product line, so could you
tell me, in the simplest terms, about the product?
What new features are you adding with this revision?
Who gives you those ideas? Which applications are
best served by new feature x? Etc. Etc."
By the end of the project, the guy had figured
out what was going on, but by page-proof stage
he didn't care any longer.
In the end, we looked on it as a joint project.
ellena -at- tolstoy -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com